Clint Bowyer claimed his third win of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and his first through five races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup on Saturday night when he took the checkered flag in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In what turned out to be a fuel-mileage test to the finish, Bowyer held off Denny Hamlin in the closing laps for the win. Hamlin was second, and Jimmie Johnson was a very distant third.
“We played the strategy correct,” Bowyer’s crew chief Brian Pattie said. “Fuel mileage was great. Three wins is awesome.”
The race turned into a fuel mileage test when the race field began to cycle through green-flag pit stops with just under 70 laps to go in the 334-lap race. Drivers who pitted early in the cycle were forced to stop again in the final 25 laps for a splash of fuel, while drivers who were able to wait a little later in the cycle stretched the fuel to go the rest of the way.
Brad Keselowski, who had led the most laps at that point in the race, stretched the fuel a little too long, running out just before hitting pit road with 58 laps to go. His fuel still wasn’t stretched far enough, as he still had to pit again in the final 20 laps.
Keselowski wound up finishing just outside the top-10 in 11th, but maintained his position as the championship points leader. But Johnson cut Keselowski’s points lead in half, from 14 to seven points.
Bowyer, Hamlin and Johnson were able to go the rest of the way without that extra stop in the closing laps. Bowyer cut it close, though, running out of fuel before getting his car to victory lane.
“What a wild race,” Bowyer said as his team was pushing his car to victory lane. “I wanted to do a burnout.”
Hamlin and Johnson, though, played things a little more safely in terms of fuel conservation.
“Gosh, I wonder how much fuel I had left,” Hamlin wondered after the race. “I saved so much. I could’ve left something on the table.”
Johnson didn’t seem concerned with leaving something on the table in the final laps, instead concentrating on earning the most points possible in the end.
“We were just being really cautious,” he said. “We just didn’t want to race up there to the No. 11 (Hamlin) and get in trouble.”
Greg Biffle finished fourth, and Kyle Busch was fifth. Mark Martin was the only other driver to finish on the lead lap, coming in sixth. Finishing seventh through 10th were Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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